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Adedipe: There’s more to fighting corruption than we’re doing

Ifedayo Adedipe [SAN]

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ifedayo Adedipe, in this interview with DUNIA GODWIN warns the Federal Government against giving the impression that all Nigerians are corrupt in its anti-graft crusade.

At what point can EFCC take possession of property suspected to be proceeds of crime?
If you look at the EFCC Act, the provision there is for the purpose of interim preservation and not the way it is being presented to the public. You can only take possession after conviction, when you have established beyond reasonable doubt that the cash or property are proceeds of a specific crime. Always have it in mind that government is not an individual that you can specifically say that somebody stole money from government coffer. Government acts through institutions. If you say this money is taken from government, the first thing you need to establish is where among all government agencies, the money was taken from, otherwise, if the case went for proper trial in the court it might fail. This is because you cannot say because you find money in my account you now assume it must be a proceed of crime. You have to prove the crime and if you alleged it is from government, it has to be established before the court from what department, agency, institution or ministry the money was stole from.

So, contrary to all these drama we are witnessing, when proper trial begins, we see that the EFCC will face a lot of challenges. But the provision of the law is that the EFCC is given power when carrying out discreet investigation. If the commission finds out that certain money or property is found and could be removed, you get a court order to freeze the account temporarily, it is not a permanent forfeiture and you can only talk about forfeiture after trial and conviction.

The opportunity to freeze is given to prevent people from decimating the property or cash. It does not mean it has become that of the government immediately they secure an order of the court. This is different from when there are allegations that they found money in dunghill, un-occupied building and so on. I am talking of when someone is involved and undergoing investigation and you freeze his account. You have a duty to establish that the said money actually belongs to the government. You must understand that no law says if you have an amount of money in your account, that you must explain how you got the money. The onus is on the state that says you stole to proof the case beyond reasonable doubt that you have actually stolen.

But so far, the law to freeze and seize is a temporary action and covered by section 44 of the Constitution, but you have to established that the money was actually stolen otherwise it has to be returned to the owner. So, the idea of forfeiture without conviction is abnormal.

What should be done to monies recovered, but which the owners refused to claim?
My take on that is that the money should be with the government until the real owner emerges. Then the person will be able to say how he got the money. And if nobody owns up to the money, then it becomes government money. It is as simple as that.

What happen to businesses of owners who are under investigation for financial crime?
A company is a separate entity from those who floated them in respect of the shares. If a company owner has issues with the government it does not mean it is the company that has issue with the government because the company is a separate individual that carries out its own obligations and activities, as contained in the memo and article of Association. The idea that a company will be closed because the owner is under investigation is not appropriate, except if such company is found to be a front for illegal activities. For instance, if you use your company premises to warehouse illicit drug, kidnapping or any other unlawful activities and it is established after such company has been subjected to the law to be true, then such company can be closed.



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